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A referral from one great producer often leads to another equally exceptional producer who, more often than not, shares our particular philosophy. In the case of the Cappellano estate in Serralunga d’Alba in the Langhe, we were introduced to Augusto Cappellano by our friends at the Podere Le Boncie (Giovanna Morganti and family and friends) in Tuscany. Le Boncie and Cappellano participate (along with the Bea family of Umbria and others) in a group known as “Vini Veri”, producers who share an ethic about viticulture and viniculture that is as much philosophical as it is about organic farming. After months of multiple conversations and correspondence amongst and between the participants, we gathered at the Cappellano cantina in late November, 2011 to taste and get to know one another. The result is that we now happily and proudly represent the wines of the Cappellano estate on an exclusive basis in the United States.

Augusto Cappellano is the fifth generation of the family to produce wine from vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba. His great-grandfather, Filippo, acquired substantial acreage there and, in 1870 established the azienda. At his death, his son, Giovanni, an oenologue, continued his father’s work, selling their wine to clients from Liguria through Piedmont. Giovanni’s brother, Giuseppe, was a pharmacist who created the family formula for their famous (then and again now) Barolo Chinato, the Barolo infused with a variety of “medicines”. Giovanni died in 1912 from a tropical fever contracted in Tunisia, perhaps while he was looking for vines that were not susceptible to phylloxera. Giuseppe then retired from his pharmaceutical chores to run the estate and he decided to sell his grapes to the Gancia company, one of the major wine producers in the Langhe. To continue the story, Giuseppe passed away in 1955. Shortly thereafter, Augusto’s father, Teobaldo, who was born and raised in Eritrea, returned to Serralunga to revive the azienda. He rebuilt the cantina and the image of Cappellano as well – this time much smaller in size (four hectares) but far more grand in quality. In his turn, he also produced once again the extraordinary Barolo Chinato using the ancient family recipe, all the while becoming one of the most admired and respected figures in the Barolo district. Augusto now takes the reins and will now place his special mark on the wines of this estate. We are very pleased to begin our collaboration with Augusto Cappellano.

The four hectares of vineyards owned by the Cappellano family are principally in Serralunga d’Alba and are supplemented by a small parcel in the neighboring village of Novello from which Cappellano produces his Nebiolo d’Alba. The vineyards in Serralunga are situated in the Gabutti cru which is on the western slopes of Serralunga at approximately 300 meters altitude. The land is farmed according to organic principles and the production of the wine is accomplished following the credo of “Vini Veri”: indigenous yeasts are relied upon, the use of sulfur is strictly limited, vinification is traditional (long fermentation, extended aging in large, old botte) and the wine is not filtered prior to bottling. The Barolo Chinato is produced by following the family recipe handed down generation to generation. The “medicinal” herbs and spices are ground using a stone mortar and pestle. Both the recipe and the process are family secrets.

Cappellano-back-label-DOLCETTO-DALBA Dolcetto d’Alba: There is a very limited amount of Dolcetto d’Alba produced at the estate. The tiny parcel of Dolcetto is in the Gabutti cru. The wine is aged for about one year prior to bottling and is released shortly thereafter.
Cappellano-BACK-label-BARBERA-DALBA-GABUTTI Barbera d’Alba: The situation for the Barbera is similar to that of the Dolcetto: grapes are sourced from a small parcel within the Gabutti cru in Serralunga d’Alba and production is exceedingly limited. In this instance, the wine is aged longer prior to release to give it additional time to define its identity.
Cappellano-back-label-NEBIOLO Nebiolo d’Alba: Notice that the Cappellano family has always referred to this grape variety with a single “b”, thus “Nebiolo”. The vines for this wine are in the neighboring village of Novello. Again, there is a very small production that complements the two stellar examples of Barolo that are produced at the cantina.
cappellano-Barolo-Pie-Rupestris-back-label Barolo Otin Fiorin Rupestris: This is the principal Barolo of the estate, at least in terms of quantity produced. The vineyard is the Gabutti cru and the exposure is south to southwest. After an extended fermentation and considerable aging in the classic “botte” of the region, the wine is bottled without filtration. The rhythm of the release is usually four to four and one-half years after the harvest. Stylistically, the wine is an honest and pure reflection of the terroir of this small but important cru: earthy, truffled aromas marry to a full-bodied, occasionally rustic character backed by rugged, classic tannins. The Barolos of Serralunga are known for their generosity and warmth and the “Rupestris” is as fine an example as one can find.
Cappellano-BACK-label-BAROLO-PIE-FRANCO-MICHET Barolo Otin Fiorin Pie Franco: Cappellano produces a limited bottling from vines that are original pre-phylloxera rootstock. Although planted in the same Gabutti cru, the wine itself can be dramatically different than the “Rupestris”, its brother wine, all this due to the difference between the “pre” and “post” phylloxera origins of the vines. There is an “exoticism” perhaps to the “Pie Franco”, an ethereal element to its aromas and flavors that make this a unique offering … clearly a rare and special experience.
AB Normal 2016

Cappellano AB Normal Vino Rosso NV: Occasionally we are presented with a wine that falls a little outside the normal progression of vintages from a particular grower. These might come about due to an extreme vintage, a strange development during vinification or elevage, or something completely out of the realm of the normal course of cellar work. In the spring of 2016, we will release a small quantity of one such anomaly, from the cellar of Augusto Cappellano. The wine was actually vinified by his father, the late Teobaldo Cappellano, as it comes from the classic 2004 vintage. The wine itself is somewhat unusual to begin with, as it is sourced from old Barbera vines found in the heart of the famed Gabutti vineyard in Barolo. His neighbors have questioned him for years on the existence of these vines in such valuable Nebbiolo terroir, however Augusto feels that Barbera is equally at home in this environment and has let the vines continue to produce. The current release of the Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti” is the 2011, however the spring release will include this small batch of 2004 to accompany it.

The older wine has not been sitting around in bottle all this time; one 1500-liter barrel was left full of the 2004 vintage Barbera for an astonishing ten years, before being put into bottle in 2015. The aging regimen disqualifies it from any appellation norms, thus the wine loses the right to be called Barbera d’Alba, or to even carry a vintage designation for that matter. To come up with a name, Augusto referenced the classic Mel Brooks film “Young Frankenstein” and the abnormal brain that played a pivotal role in that movie. The character Igor mistakenly supplies Dr. Frankenstein with a brain that he believes belongs to “Abby Normal”, not realizing that it is actually an “Abnormal” brain, not to be used. The name of the wine is thus “AB Normal” in a subtle wink to this scene.


Barolo Chinato: One cannot say much, certainly not enough, about the Chinato from Cappellano since the production and recipe are closely held secrets within the family. Suffice it to say that the family has produced an iconic version of this wine infused with spices, herbs and other earthly elements that make for a ravishing sensory experience. Here are a duo of ways to enjoy the Cappellano Chinato …

  • As an aperitif: 4 parts gin, 4 parts Campari, 2 parts Chinato, a touch of ice plus a slice of orange.
  • As a “thirst quencher”: cold sparkling water plus 10% of the volume in Chinato with the juice of a freshly squeezed lime accompanied by a slice of lime.And, Augusto Cappellano reminds us: don’t forget the pleasure of drinking the Chinato accompanied by the best chocolate one can find!

Cappellano’s Haunting 2013s

Each year, a rapt audience of Piemonte die-hards eagerly awaits the release of a new vintage from the Cappellano family in Serralunga d’Alba. In a zone so seduced by modern methods over the past few decades, Cappellano is the rare estate that never made concessions to technological trickery, never changed their wines to suit the fashion of the times. Teobaldo Cappellano—the deceased father of the current steward Augusto—was a strong-willed iconoclast who decried the artificiality encroaching upon Italian wine during his time. “Baldo” (as he was affectionately called) was one of the co-founders of the ViniVeri organization, a well-regarded group of growers united not only in their respectful methods of farming and winemaking but in their overall philosophy of wine and its ultimate cultural and spiritual value. A profound reverence for tradition suffuses all of the work done at Cappellano—from Augusto’s old-style methods of vinification, to his labeling, to his refusal to court the press, he understands the jewel he has inherited and works tirelessly to preserve its magic. And the wines that issue forth from his tiny cellar—generous of spirit, deeply traditional, powerful yet full of life—are a testament to his mastery. We will receive the 2013s from Cappellano around the first of May, and our only regret is that there is never enough to satisfy those among us who understand the beauty, value, and meaning of such singular wines.

2014 Nebiolo d’Alba
An even rarer bird than the Barolo “Pie Franco” below, Cappellano’s Nebiolo d’Alba (spelled with one “b” as a nod to the old Piemonte dialect) comes from a small parcel in the nearby town of Novello—less vaunted turf than the family’s classic holdings in Serralunga d’Alba, but capable of producing honest, expressive wines, especially under such careful stewardship. 2014 was a difficult growing season in the north of Italy; and, while Cappellano’s 2014 Nebiolo is not as rigorous in its structure as in more typical years, it offers gorgeous transparency and strikingly pretty aromatics, along with a palate of lip-smacking freshness and gentle purity. Sadly, the family’s holdings in this village have been mercilessly attacked by flavescenza dorata—a bacterial vine disease—and 2014 will be the final vintage for this charming wine.

2013 Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti”
By all rights, Barbera has no business being planted in such a well-situated portion of such an esteemed cru in Serralunga d’Alba. Augusto could easily replace it with Nebbiolo, augment his production of Barolo, and reap far more money from this chunk of prime real estate. Thankfully, the Cappellano family has always believed in the expressive power of Barbera planted in a great site and treated with respect and seriousness in the cellar, and, sure enough, their Barbera d’Alba is outside class—one of the finest examples of this grape variety, full stop. It is treated in exactly the same manner as the Barolo: a long, natural, traditional fermentation with plenty of time on the skins, aging in well-used casks for over three years, and bottling without fining or filtration. This 2013 offers an assertively wild, bold nose of Turkish spice, iron, game, and brooding red fruits. The palate is riotous, with huge acidity pulling against thick, crunchy fruit, and a wallop of tannin that puts one in the mind of a bygone era of Italian wine, albeit in the most soul-stirring way. There is that sense of sizzling energy on the palate, that hallmark of healthy, non-manipulated fruit which simply cannot be faked. Those fortunate enough to obtain a few bottles of this minuscule-production tour de force are encouraged to lay a couple of bottles down in their cellar, as it is a wine that will develop new layers of complexity for a good fifteen to twenty years.

2013 Barolo “Pie Rupestris”
The fabled Cappellano Barolo Chinato (the first ever made in the region) is an important wine for the family—so much so that a full one-third of their vines in the Gabutti cru are devoted to it. As with the Barbera above, Augusto could easily use all of the Chinato-destined fruit to produce more Barolo, thereby making more money with arguably less toil. The upshot of Augusto’s admirable continuation of this family tradition, however, is that only the prime filet of their Gabutti holdings are included in the Barolo proper. Vintage in and vintage out, Cappellano’s Barolo “Pie Rupestris” is one of the most distinctive and singular wines in the entire zone—and in a year as blessed by nature as 2013, it is as monumental as one would expect. The 2013 is a broad, immensely tannic wine, yet it shows no strain of ambition, no overt desire to beguile or impress. There is a solidity and assuredness at its core, an honesty—of structure, of tannic heft, of carriage—that mirrors the character of the Cappellano clan. A vivid, utterly gorgeous nose leads into a densely concentrated palate that—like all of the world’s greatest wines—unites power and finesse in seemingly paradoxical fashion. There is a glimmer of elegance here as well, a distant sense of gentleness that emerges through the old-school roar of structure. That, too, is honest, for it is Augusto’s nature—an intelligent, gentle spirit committed to continuing the incredible work of his predecessors in a thoughtful manner. Give this magnificent, multilayered wine the time in the cellar it deserves.

2013 Barolo “Pie Franco”
One of the rarest wines in our portfolio, Cappellano’s legendary Barolo “Pie Franco” is produced from a tiny section of ungrafted Nebbiolo in the heart of their Gabutti holdings. Though it is produced in exactly the same fashion as its American-rootstocked brother above, its personality is always strikingly different (despite the undeniable family resemblance): more ethereal, more kaleidoscopic in its aromatic profile, and even more texturally seamless. That is not to say that there isn’t plenty of old-style Barolo structure to be found here, as Pie Franco is in no way demure or polite. But it is somehow less “earthbound,” provoking a sense of wonderment in the taster and offering a glimpse into something beyond analysis, beyond language. The bold but lively 2013 offers fruit pitched slightly more toward the red than the Rupestris, and while it is equally tannic, the tannins themselves are silkier and less imposing—a difference of physique rather than of weight. Drinking this wine before, at minimum, ten years of bottle age should be against the law, and those lucky few who obtain access to the ’13 Pie Franco are exhorted to exercise patience.

Barolo Chinato
The spellbinding elixir known as Barolo Chinato was actually invented by the Cappellano family, with Giuseppe Cappellano—a pharmacist by trade—developing the recipe in the late 19th century as a digestive aid. The still-top-secret, carefully guarded recipe was passed down from Giuseppe to his son Francesco, then to his son, the iconoclastic and revered Teobaldo, and finally to Augusto. The recipe has remained unchanged since the earliest days, transferred ceremoniously via handwritten letter during each generational shift. Augusto still crushes the herbs and spices by hand with the family’s old cast-iron mortar and pestle, and the steps to creating the perfect mixture are complex and difficult—Augusto told us it took him years, beginning as a young child, to master the technique. Happily, the results of this arcane process are nothing short of sublime, as Cappellano’s Chinato blitzes the senses with overwhelming complexity—the nose of the stuff alone is worth the price of admission. On the palate, the Chinato’s marked sweetness is buffered by its sheer depth—after all, 50% of the blend is traditionally vinified and aged single-vintage Barolo. A heady melange of herbs and spices, coupled with the elixir’s rich, chocolatey depths, pull both mouth and mind in infinite directions, but the whole experience is still balanced, composed, and just flat-out absurdly delicious. Those granted the privilege of accessing the Cappellano family’s sublime wines are strongly urged to explore the Chinato as well, as it is a vital constituent of the estate’s overall production.

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